Fulbright riffs, 1991 — day 84, Wednesday August 21st
Building up to the final chorus: no slips, please.
My first appointment today is at the Hatch-Billops Collection, close by at 491 Broadway. The collection’s focus is on African-American artists and it has been involved in oral history.
My walk there allows time for more East Village photography. I’ve been intrigued for days by the white ‘Earth Mother’ statue that stands outside an apartment one or two blocks away from Howard Mandel’s apartment, where I’m staying for the next five days. For once, I am looking at it in daylight and dry weather.
[I was reminded of this strongly a couple of days when those lampoon sculptures of Donald Trump started to appear in various American cities].
I take a small detour north to find Auden’s abode at 77 St Mark’s Place. He lived in an apartment one flight up, the bar downstairs being a favourite hangout.
[I remain uncertain about the picture on the left. If it was meant to be Auden’s house, then I captured the wrong one, maybe the house next door! Marcia Leisner in Literary neighbourhoods of New York (Washington DC, 1989) gives some delightful detail about No. 77’s occupants:
“Wystan Hugh Auden… was born in York, England but chose to live in New York — New York, he said, not the United States — and became an American citizen. A tall, clumsy man with flat feet and bitten fingernails, he went about in a single suit until the pants split. He could reduce any interior to chaos in record time and lived in a welter of books, papers and empty bottles. Cigarette burns on tables were a sure sign of his occupancy. His flat feet hurt, so he wore carpet slippers (frayed) even with evening dress. At parties in the St. Mark’s Place flat which he shared with his long-time lover Chester Kallman, he served champagne, French for celebrities, Californian for the others; both vintages democratically cooled in the grimy bathtub and served in jelly jars” — Leisner, pp. 33–34].
I arrive at Hatch-Billops right on time at 10 am. Jim Hatch has forgotten. I hang around for a while, then drop by the post office to see if Howard’s mislaid parcels have been found. They haven’t. By now I’m getting hot and rather bad-tempered.
My next appointment is at the BBQ cafe with John Gray from the Black Arts Resource Center. He’s forgotten too, though he claims, when I call him half an hour later on a pay phone, that I never confirmed. Too bad.
I do some grocery shopping instead and return to the apartment to make ratatouille for when Jayne arrives tomorrow.
Jim Hatch calls to apologise for the mix-up and we re-schedule for 4 this afternoon. [I no longer have my notes about our two-hour meeting, but the information about the collection on the American Folklife Center’s website about their oral history of black culture (now at the City College of New York) will suffice:
“Audiotapes of interviews conducted mainly between 1970 and 1974 with African-American actors, actresses and artists as well as with a few African-American historians, sociologists, educators and political scientists. A numbers of the interviews were conducted by James V. Hatch or Camille Billops… James Vernon Hatch, playwright, poet and Professor of English at City College of the City University of New York, joined the English Department in 1965. Between 1968 and 1974 he conducted an oral history project in collaboration with Camille Billops which documented the work and opinions of Afro-American visual and theater artists and, to a lesser extent, Afro-Americans working as historians, sociologists and political scientists”.]
My evening companions are Ben Young and Russell from WKCR. We’ll be talking about the respective improvised music scenes in London and New York. They call at the apartment and are impressed to discover that this is where Howard Mandel and Kitty Brazelton live. I have to prise them away from the shelves of CDs so we can get to Nefertiti in time for our reservation, even though it’s just around the corner.
Over our Arabian couscous, the cheapest dish on the menu (they’re even more broke than I am!) I get the impression that the London improvised music scene is the healthier prospect. The Knitting Factory has been a champion but is veering into indie-pop; New Music Distribution Service (NMDS), from where I’d been importing recordings for the National Sound Archive for several years, went out of business in 1990; and Ear Magazine is also on the rocks. I tell them about Company Week, London Musicians Collective and the British Library’s plans to re-publish Derek Bailey’s Improvisation.
I’m kept awake by tooth-ache that’s come on suddenly today. The pain-killers are aggravating other health problems like blocked sinuses and leg cramps. It looks like I’m going to be in great shape for Jayne’s arrival!